Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame

The final day of September was overcast and, in the end, quite rainy here in Cooperstown, NY. Highs on the day were in the low-to-mid-60s, so it was a perfect day to spend at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

But before I get there I have to mention that on our travel day (Sept. 29) from Lakawanna to Glimmerglass State Park (NY) at the opposite end of Lake Otsego from Cooperstown proper, we stopped for lunch at Brewery Ommegang (as we had done last year). We were a bit too early to check into our campsites in any case, and JB & Martha had made additional stops along the way, so Ken & Diane, Kerry & Glo, and Jack & I stopped and had a delicious lunch and one of their nice beers. I thoroughly enjoyed their Nirvana IPA, a fine accompaniment to my beer-batter-baked chicken breast sandwich with “frites.” Yum.


We linked up with JB & Martha at Glimmerglass, and a fine camping adventure it is here. Here are a couple photos of our site, which is #006. 

There is no on-site water available so we all filled our tanks with the freshwater available at the dump station on our way in, and the electric has been happily running our heat pump for early morning and evening warmth since we arrived.

So. The main project of this trip has always been the Hall of Fame and JB, the baseball fan amongst us, and his dream to have his photo taken with one of his faves, Cal Ripken, inducted in 2007. But there is so much more than just a H o F with listings of names and dates here. I’m going to keep the reading part as small as possible and just post some of the many photos (some with captions) I took of what I consider the highlights of my time at the museum.

JB studying one of the displays.

Babe Ruth, 1984; Ted Williams, 1985: Basswood: These sculptures were each carved by Armand LaMontagne (b. 1939) of North Scituate, Rhode Island, from one piece of laminated basswood. Everything you see here is wood. There is no cloth, leather, or stone.

Cast bronzes by Stanley Bleifeld, 2008, Becoming a Hall of Famer takes more than just a great baseball career. Off-the-field challenges—and how those challenges are met—reveal an inner character that serves men and women throughout their lives. The life experiences of Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, and Roberto Clemente stand out above all. Each faced personal and social obstacles with strength and dignity that set an example of character and courage for all others to follow.
“A Good Bat” is a lithograph that uses baseball terms to explain the political platforms of Abraham Lincoln and his three opponents in the presidential election of 1860, an early example of how th game was becoming a part of our common popular culture. —Currier and Ives, 1860 (Lincoln’s opponents were John C. Breckinridge, John Bell & Stephen Douglas).
 

As we entered the museum proper, we were met with the strange aspect of this:

The “Holy Cow” by Phil Rizzuto – Cows on Parade: New York, 2000 – Throughout the summer of 2000, 500+ painted and decorated cows graced New York City’s parks and plazas. The program was a collaborative effort by the city’s arts community along with government, corporate, and individual sponsors. The works were created by talented NY artists. Proceeds benefitted various NYC charities.




Inventing Abner Doubleday: In 1905, the US was taking its place on the world stage, eager to establish its distinct heritage. In that spirit, sporting goods magnate Albert Spaulding handpicked a special commission to prove the national game’s American roots. The eventual verdict? Civil War hero Abner Doubleday created baseball in Cooperstown in 1839.

In fact, baseball was played decades earlier, evolving from many similar bat-and-ball games. Doubleday didn’t “invent” baseball . . . Baseball invented Doubleday, a thriving legend that reflects Americans’ desire to make the game our own. (Doubleday Field backs Main Street in the middle of Cooperstown, with this “Sandlot Kid” sculpture just off Main St.)

The “Doubleday Baseball,” used to bolster the claim of baseball’s legendary 1839 “birth”in Cooperstown, NY.

In the section of the history called “Pride & Passion: The African American Baseball Experience” there were many photos and original documents detailing early players and the abuse they endured in the white establishment. 


The plaque introducing this section of baseball’s history read: Almost as soon as the game’s rules were codified, Americans played baseball so passionately that writers of the time called it a mania. African Americans were no different, but in baseball, as in much of American life, they played mostly in segregated settings, including southern plantations as early as the 1850s. On their own sandlots and diamonds, they too developed baseball to its fullest potential. Black communities took pride in these teams and their dynamic brand of the National Pastime. From the earliest times, black baseball was the seedbed for those talented players who paved the way to integrated baseball. The game itself became a testing ground for integrating American life.

Among the pieces of which I am most proud (please note dripping sarcasm here) is this letter from the Richmond, VA baseball team “leaders” in 1883, promising bloodshed if a OH team allows a black player to suit up for the games to be played in Richmond: “We the undersigned do hereby warn you not to put up Walker, the negro catcher, the evenings that you play in Richmond, as we could mention the names of 75 determined men who have sworn to mob Walker if he comes on the ground in a suit. We hope you will listen to our words of warning, so that there will be no trouble; but if you do not, there certainly will be. We only write this to prevent much bloodshed, as you alone can prevent.” —Letter from Richmond, VA team to the manager of Toledo team regarding Fleet Walker, 1883.

Currier and Ives, one of America’s most popular pictorial records, cruelly ridiculed the ability of African Americans to play baseball. A 1887 letter to the editor of Sporting Life magazine echoed such prejudice: “Good sherry has a fine, nutty flavor, and so perhaps would the remark that the colored club were dark horses and that they played nobly and all that sort of thing, but please, Mr. Editor, can’t we say that a brunette manager in search of colored players is on a grand coon-hunt? (Signed, T. T. T.)”

Of course, men and women of color made significant contributions to the game over time and as one proceeds through the museum, the evidence of this is clear.

My next favorite section was the one about women in the game and reporting about the game and fans of the game. This section of the Hall of Fame was called Diamond Dreams: “Take me out to the ball game,” sang Katie Casey in the famous baseball anthem. Katie was not alone. Women have always loved and played the game, and have worked hard to fulfill their baseball dreams. Stories of exceptions women and their achievements on the field, in the press box, and in the front office pepper baseball history.


Hank Aaron: The list of American heroes who transcend sport to become genuine cultural icons is short and distinguished. Gifted with exceptional physical ability, and unparalleled professional demeanor, mind-boggling consistency, and an internal drive for excellence in all his endeavors, Aaron set a standard nearly impossible to surpass.


His records speak for themselves. When Aaron retired in 1976, he had amassed record totals for home runs, runs batted in, extra base hits, and total bases. “The Hammer” accomplished all of this with a quiet grace and dignity, foregoing the brash pomp and circumstance associated with many other superstars of the sport. 

Perhaps his greatest achievement, however, has taken place beyond the diamond. Aaron has used his well-earned celebrity status on the field to transform the larger world off of it. His championing of civil rights, untiring support for numerous charities, and service as an influence ambassador for baseball has only increased his legacy.

One of the seminal eras in baseball history happened over 1973 & 4, as Aaron neared Babe Ruth’s “unbreakable” career home run record. Aaron faced tremendous adversity in pursuing the most hallowed mark in all of American sport, and is respected as much for his dignity during the chase as for the record he broke. 

Babe Ruth’s uniform displayed next to a photo of him in action.

The moment came on April 8, 1974, when he hit his 715th career home run off the Dodgers’ Al Downing to dethrone Ruth as the all-time home run King, a title the “Bambino” held for 53 years.  

Of course, records are of critical importance in baseball. Lots of them are displayed at the H o F.


“The way I see it, it’s a great thing to be the man who hit the most home runs, but it’s a greater thing to be the man who did the most with the home runs he hit.” —Hank Aaron

My favorite quote about Henry Aaron: “Trying to throw a fastball by Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak a sunrise past a rooster.” —Pitcher Curt Simmons, who played primarily for the Phillies and Cardinals during his 20-year career.

Hank Aaron’s impact on both baseball and the lives of others has only grown since his retirement in 1976. One of baseball’s first African American executives when he moved to the Braves front office in 1977, Aaron used his iconic status as a springboard to fight racial intolerance. 

Aaron’s philanthropic endeavors continue to help people all over the world, while his Chasing the Cream Foundation has provided millions of dollars to underprivileged kids. Honored with the United States’ two highest civilian awards (the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Citizens Medal) Aaron has set an excample for generations and underscored the true meaning of the word “champion.”

Right toward the end of the primary exhibits was the famous “Who’s on First” routine by Abbot and Costello. It had been years since I’d seen it all the way through, and I laughed again, as if for the first time, until tears streamed down my face. A true classic. Bud Abbot and Lou Costello perfected the skit during the late 1930s. It was first performed on radio in 1938; and on film in 1940. But they staged the most famous version in the 1945 movie The Naughty Nineties. Over half a century later, Time magazine voted it the “Best Comedy Sketch of the 20th Century.”


The end of the museum included amazing photographs collected from all eras of the game. Here are a few I liked.

Kansas City monarchs pitcher Satchel Paige stands inside Detroit’s Briggs Stadium, where fans packed the park to watch him pitch a game against the Chicago American Giants in September of 1941 (photographer unknown). “My fastball looks like a change of pace along-side that little pistol bullet old Satchel shoots up to the plate . . . Satchel, with those long arms of his, is my idea of the pitcher with the greatest stuff I ever saw.” —Former pitcher Dizzy Dean, 1969
On the first floor is the Hall of Fame itself, which consists of bronze plaques like this one of JB’s hero, Cal Ripken, organized by the year each player was inducted. 


Also on the first floor (which visitors are encouraged to see last) is a gallery of artworks whose subject matter is baseball. I had no idea that Alexander Calder did an abstract involving baseball. 

Baseball, 1966 – Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) – Gouache and ink on paper: Alexander Calder once said, “I paint in shapes.” While this famed American artist is best known for his mobiles, Calder’s two-dimensional works also show mastery of Abstraction and Surrealism. His concern with primary color, motion and playfulness shows in Baseball where he unifies players of different races with the same team color.

Norman Rockwell, of course, was represented, as was this Currier and Ives lithograph.

The American National Game of Base Ball, 1866 (artist unknown). The printmaking firm of Currier and Ives, sell-described “publishers of cheap and popular pictures,” produced numerous lithographs through the 19th century. First made available in the spring of 1866, this print depicts a game played at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields, an idyllic and favored site for baseball at the time.

Also, this nice watercolor by Elaine de Kooning (1918 – 1989)

The Baseball Catch c. 1960 – Elaine de Kooning was a pioneering artist, art critic, and teacher in the height of the Abstract Expressionist era and beyond, working alongside artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and her husband, Willem de Kooning. In this watercolor, she displays combinations of painting and drawing, surface and contour, stroke and line, and color and light – as she depicts the dynamic relationships among the players and umpire.

There was also a first floor section, off toward the HoF Library, about the famous folks who reported on and wrote about and called the games throughout history. Outside in the then-pouring rain was a small sculpture garden. In my photo I was able to get three of the four players displayed there, but had to miss out the catcher, who is “off camera” from the pitcher.


After the HoF, we went to Council Rock Brewery – not much to see there, but the food was delicious (better than Ommegang, IMHO) and I drank an excellent un-filtered IPA that was creamy and hoppy in all the correct proportions. Must of us tried a different beer each, and Jack had a Scotch Dubbel that he found quite good. Another excellent meal was had by all, and the rain had let up a little by the time we left.



A quick stop at the Cooperstown Distillery store front so JB could pick up replacements for the local spirit we got him in his absence last year; a jump into the grocery en route back to Glimmerglass and our day out was complete.

Back at camp, we holed up as the rain continued. Jack and I read our books, listened to music, and took Gloria up on her offer to share a Mexican-inspired casserole they were heating up, so we didn’t even have to cook. We slept to the near-constant patter of rain on the Roomba roof, and hoped for the forecast of little or no rain next day to come true.

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